The Arras People Project Management Benchmark Report contains a useful snapshot summary of responses by job title this year. It means we can take a look at what an ‘average’ project manager looks like, if there is such a thing. Bear in mind that the survey is mainly targeted at UK project managers although there were a fair few responses from those working outside the UK.
Let’s meet our average PM.
Does any of this sound like you? Nearly 45% of the respondents to the Arras survey identified as project managers so this is data from a very representative sample.
Let’s have a look at some of the outlier responses and create a different sort of project manager.
This really doesn’t sound likely as a profile, does it? It’s a collection of the least common responses from people in the survey, but it doesn’t hang well together as a pen portrait of an atypical project manager. I could extrapolate from this that the ‘average’ project manager I constructed above from the most common responses to the survey is also not a particularly accurate profile.
Statistics are useful – in this case they help set salaries and responsibilities for people in professional project management positions. But they need to be considered in context.
Get a copy of the survey and see the details for yourself here.
When timetracking blocks efficiency
The second edition of Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World is now out and I had to ditch several great case studies from the updated manuscript. I thought you might be interested in this one: it describes what happens when project managers and timesheets don’t see eye to eye.
Luke Reader has worked for project managers who handed him a list of tasks for the week. A typical list would include the hours completed for each task and the estimated time needed to finish each one already filled in. Despite the good intentions of his project managers he did not find working with timesheets in this way very effective.
‘Timesheets can put a barrier between the project manager and their understanding of what’s happening,’ Reader says. ‘It also annoys the team by treating them as a production line rather than intelligent people who can usefully participate in managing their workload.’
Reader has witnessed at firsthand how using rigid time recording can back-fire, and as an IT project manager himself, has developed a more effective way of handling the work of his own team. ‘The problem with timesheets on their own,’ he says, ‘is that the team soon learn that rather than say, “This task is late, I mis-estimated”, they invent new tasks such as a test cycle or a further review. These are then written on the timesheet in an attempt to show how hard they are working even though the overall work is behind. The project manager cannot tell what the genuine issues are. And while the project manager can go back and challenge things, it means another cycle of going back to people – and time passes, which is something you don’t have on projects.’
Having learnt from the mistakes of others Reader now takes a pragmatic approach to managing his team’s time. ‘For me, timesheets are a mechanism to allow contractors to get paid, internal and external billing to take place, and sometimes for company management to get an idea of what their staff do all day,’ he says. ‘So as a project manager I make timesheets as simple as possible, ideally just having one task like “Work on Project X”, and I manage the people via discussion using the project schedule as the reference.’
I’ve worked on projects where I used timesheets and on those where I haven’t. When we have tracked time, all resources have done it, not just technical teams. Sometimes my timesheet has had one bucket task on, such as when I was loaned from one business unit to another. My ‘official’ business unit didn’t much mind what I spent the days doing as long as they were able to internally cross-charge for my time. A timesheet helped them do that, but it only needed one task on which was basically ‘work for XYZ department as required’.
On the other hand, I’ve had to put together quite detailed timesheets to cover the range of tasks that my project team did from very technical work to business process redesign and all the project management related stuff too. It’s time consuming but very enlightening. Even if you don’t intend to track time long term or have the requirement to do so, I’d recommend that as a time management task you give it a go at least once. We found that the whole team spent the most time on the task called ‘non-productive work and travel’. Not good! But at least having that identified meant that we could do something about it.
If you’re looking for more advice on tracking time on your projects there are more tips on timesheets in a Q&A here.
The Arras People Project Management Benchmark Report is out and 2015 is the 10th anniversary of this important study into the state of the industry. One of the interesting snippets of information in the 40-page report is a peek into how the recruitment pipeline breaks down because the people involved aren’t using the same criteria to assess candidates.
The person hiring has very different views of what makes a great candidate for a PM role to the project management professionals who may be involved in the hiring process. Let’s say I’m the hiring manager. I have certain views as to what makes a great project manager, but I don’t want to sift through CVs and interview candidates alone. Project management is a team sport, so I bring one or two of my trusted senior project managers into the loop for the purposes of recruiting. They have a different view of what the person should be good at to excel in the job.
So far, so clear. Let’s look at where the differences of opinion are between hiring manager and peer.
Professional body membership
Hiring managers seem to put a greater emphasis on membership of professional bodies like PMI and APM than project managers involved in the recruitment process. Over 50% of recruiters say it’s important compared to only 29% of peers.
Continuous professional development
Should project management candidates show evidence of improving their skills over the years through continuous professional development? Over 50% of their peers believe that they should. Less than a third of hiring managers thought it was an important element for someone’s application.
Soft skills training
Project management is a lot about managing stakeholders and getting the soft skills right on a project goes a long way to achieving that. Over one in five hiring managers doesn’t believe it’s important but only 8% of peers would agree. Nearly 60% of peers think that their prospective colleagues should be able to demonstrate that they’ve done some soft skills training but only 15% of hiring managers would rank that as important on an application.
We’ve seen how professional body membership is viewed by both groups. What about credentials and certificates in project management subjects? This is one area where both hiring managers and the project managers involved in recruitment seem to have a similar view. Over 75% of recruiters and peers agree that PPM accreditation of some sort is essential for candidates.
Why does it matter whether the people involved in recruitment agree or not? A healthy debate is the result of not agreeing, and that can make for better hiring decisions.
Well, it can. But it can also result in posts not filled because managers can’t agree on who to recruit. It results in good candidates not getting a look in because they are weeded out at an early stage when actually they may well have the skills to do the job. That’s not to say that either hiring managers or peers are ‘wrong’ in their assessment of what it takes to do the role. I’m only highlighting that some candidates won’t make it past the first filter because of who is doing the filtering. If they had made it past and were subject to that healthy debate, the hiring team may end up with a different perspective on their application.
The disconnect in the recruitment supply chain, as Arras calls it, also creates problems when dealing with third party recruitment agencies (like Arras). That’s another viewpoint. They are specialist, and know what the market wants, but it’s still a third pair of eyes reviewing CVs and applying their own filters about what important skills and qualifications a candidate should have.
How do we fix this problem? I don’t think we can. It’s normal for people in different posts to have different opinions of a role – it’s normal for different people to have different opinions. Instead, all we can do is be open to the fact this is happening and make sure we really discuss a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in the round before writing them off. Otherwise we’ll be left with vacancies we can’t fill and projects that can’t be delivered, and that’s no good for anyone.
Read more about the reasons why you should be investing in a resource management strategy.
You’ve looked at the budget tracker and – to your dismay – you can’t make the figures balance. At the current run rate you will be overspent by the end of the project. You are forecasting to be over by way more than your project sponsor has agreed in terms of tolerances. There’s only one option: you need to ask for more money.
Asking for a budget increase isn’t an easy thing to do. For one, it’s embarrassing, especially if you were involved in putting the budget together in the first place. You’ve got to admit that you got it wrong. Here are nine steps to handle that difficult conversation with your project sponsor.
1. Be honest
You can’t hide at this point. Make sure that you are working from a position of clear, transparent, justifiable data.
2. Get time with your sponsor
Don’t do this over email. Even over the phone is pretty bad. If you can, get time with your sponsor to meet them face-to-face. If necessary, book it through their PA and confirm the day before. You can do this as soon as you know you are going to need the meeting, and ask to see them as soon as possible. Your budget position is only going to get worse, so you need a steer from them about the project financials as soon as you can.
Give yourself time to work out the position and prepare some alternatives but ideally you’ll want to meet them quickly.
3. Sort out your estimating
You need better estimates. Most likely your project budget is over because you:
Estimate, and then include proper contingency reserves if you do not have confidence in those estimates.
4. Prepare a new budget
Use your new figures to revise your budget. Go back to basics. Start from scratch and do the whole thing again. There may be some elements you feel confident enough to keep but at this point nothing should be without challenge.
Because if you are going to back to ask for more cash, make sure you only do it once. Once is excusable – kind of. Twice makes it look like you don’t have a handle on the work involved and it undermines your professional credibility.
5. Prepare your rationale
You may be more interested in securing more funding, but your project sponsor is going to want to know why you need the money. Work out your arguments in advance, and make sure they are good.
You should be able to articulate why you are overspent (remember point 1 about: be honest and if you messed up, say so). Stay factual, and avoid apportioning blame even if it is really tempting to mention that you got a bad deal from a supplier.
6. Prepare some alternatives
Could you stick with your existing budget but deliver less functionality? Or deliver the same functionality over a longer period of time, perhaps with less expensive or in-house resources? Or deliver some functionality with the extra funding but not everything?
Come up with some alternatives to the whole amount so your sponsor has options. Be aware that one option is to cancel the project completely.
7. Prepare your sponsor
Don’t let your sponsor believe you are going to meet them to tell them that all is well. Nobody likes surprises, and in my experience, project sponsors hate them more than most! Send over a briefing pack for them to review in advance of your meeting, including the alternative options if securing the full amount of additional funding isn’t an option.
8. Hold your meeting
Meet your sponsor. Clearly present the current project situation and the financial position. Clearly explain what cash is needed to keep the project moving forward and why that is required. Give a level of confidence about how comfortable you are that these figures are now accurate and what is needed to complete the project on time and to the existing scope.
Talk to them about the additional options that you have come up with and ask if they see any further alternatives that would deliver business value but keep within reasonable cost.
Ultimately, your sponsor will make a decision about what to do next. The exact answer you get will depend on the situation and how far along you are in the project but it’s likely to be something like one of these:
“Here’s the extra funding. Carry on.”
“Here’s a portion of the extra funding. Let’s work out how much we can deliver with this.”
“There is no more funding. Work out what you can deliver without more money.”
“This project is no longer viable. Please shut it down and salvage what you can.”
9. Act on your sponsor’s decision
Your sponsor has spoken. Now it’s your turn to follow through. Obviously what you do depends on what route they have chosen as the most appropriate one for your project. Whatever the way forward, you should explain the situation to the project team so they are fully aware of what is going on.
Nine steps might sound like quite a lot but it’s an involved process that you need to get right. Have I missed anything out? What are your experiences of having to ask for more money to complete your project? Let us know in the comments.